The president’s 2024 budget: big money for big problems
There is a common adage that you can tell what an elected official cares about by looking at their budget. Over the last few years we’ve seen a real shift in how the White House and the Department of Transportation have developed their annual budget. We now see a focus on safety, not only in their rhetoric, but also in how they propose to spend tax dollars.
The League has been a longtime advocate for increasing federal resources to improve safety and access for people biking and walking.
Many of you have joined us through the years, advocating for a nonmotorized safety performance measure, increased funding and better policies for the Transportation Alternatives program, and chipping away at the language and culture that has focused the Highway Safety Improvement Program on improving safety for car occupants almost exclusively.
It has been a long slog, but the new budget – along with other policy moves by the Buttigieg DOT and the Federal Highway Administration – show a real change in policy and practice. Our voices are being heard.
While the White House Budget released last week is considered more of a statement of priorities rather than anything that has a strong chance of being transcribed into law, the signals the DOT and White House are sending through the budget are still an important measure. However, there are more changes in culture, policy and funding within the transportation community we’d like to see. We’ll be working on those changes at the National Bike Summit coming up at the end of this month.
One consistent message from the United States Department of Transportation under Secretary Pete Buttigieg and President Biden has been that the United States has a traffic safety crisis. Traffic deaths jumped during the Covid-19 pandemic, escalating a decade of increases for people biking and walking to multi-decade highs. With their Fiscal Year 2024 Budget, Secretary Buttigieg and President Biden are requesting big money to deal with big problems in our transportation system that have contributed to our nation’s traffic safety crisis.
$3.1 billion for the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP)
- HSIP is specifically focused on safety improvements, making it a key part of the administration’s efforts to promote and implement a Safe System Approach. A Safe System Approach acknowledges that people make mistakes, and that transportation agencies are one of the most important agents responsible for proactively putting safeguards in place to prevent those mistakes from being fatal or causing serious injuries. In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), Congress required states where biking and walking deaths make up 15% or more of traffic deaths to spend 15% or more of HSIP on biking and walking safety improvements, a policy the League first championed in 2011.
$70.3 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
- This reflects funding increases from the BIL, “the largest long-term investment in our infrastructure and economy in our Nation’s history.” While biking and walking investments usually average around 2% of FHWA funding, biking and walking infrastructure is eligible for about 90% of FHWA funding. There are more resources than ever to create safer places to bike and walk.
$60 million to fund the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program (ATIIP)
- Last year we celebrated $45 million in the budget for ATIIP, a 2022 National Bike Summit priority. It is great to see a one-third increase in this request, “which would provide competitive grants for the construction of active transportation networks, including sidewalks, bikeways, and pedestrian and bicycle trails.”
$14.4 billion for the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program of which 10% or $1.44 billion is set aside for Transportation Alternatives
- Increasing Transportation Alternatives funding, which has long been the most common source of federal funding for biking and walking projects, was one of the League’s key goals with the BIL, and this record funding means more great biking projects than ever.
$100 million to fund the Thriving Communities program
- The Thriving Communities program provides technical assistance, capacity building, and other assistance to help disadvantaged communities advance transformative, equitable, and climate-friendly infrastructure projects. Last year $25 million was requested, so this is a big potential increase in available funding.
$100 million, along with $100 million in BIL advance appropriations, to fund the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program
- In late February 2023 the first round of the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program funding was awarded to 45 projects that will address past transportation infrastructure decisions that limited mobility within communities.
Over $60 million for several National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research activities, including:
- $25.7 million for rulemaking, enforcement, and research related to vehicle automation. This could support the League’s long-time request for a “vision test” for automated vehicles in order to ensure they can detect, identify, and safely interact with people biking and walking.
- $20 million for other research initiatives, including $10 million specifically for researching the impact on driver distraction from in-vehicle technology interfaces including touchscreen controls, infotainment displays, and mobile device integration. The $20 million would also include $2 million for research on the effect of vehicle size, weight, and shape on pedestrian safety. Many experts have pointed towards increasing vehicle heights and weights as partly responsible for increases in pedestrian and bicyclist deaths.
- $27.1 million for research to support the safe testing and deployment of new technologies, commonly referred to as advanced driver assistance systems, including for large trucks. This funding could support the development of bicyclist-automatic emergency braking (AEB) testing that the League has requested since 2015, vision systems that address blind zones on large trucks and SUVs, and intelligent speed assist deployment.
$49.1 million for NHTSA rulemaking programs and activities, including $11.6 million for the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP)
- The $49.1 million includes $2 million to support the development of safety standards mandated by BIL, including safety standards for passenger vehicles with advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology.
- The $11.6 million for NCAP is unfortunately not significantly higher than recent budget requests for NCAP, meaning that tests like bicyclist-AEB are more likely in the research phase than operational.